Breathing regularly stops and starts during sleep, which is known as sleep apnea. You may have sleep apnea if you snore loudly and still feel exhausted after a full night's sleep.
These are the primary forms of sleep apnea:
- Obstructive sleep apnea, the more common form that occurs when throat muscles relax
- Central sleep apnea, occurs when your brain doesn't send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing
- Complex sleep apnea syndrome, also known as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea, occurs when someone has both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea
Consult your doctor if you suspect that you may have sleep apnea. Treatment can help you feel better and may help you avoid consequences like heart disease.
It can be challenging to distinguish between obstructive and central sleep apneas since their signs and symptoms sometimes coincide. Obstructive and central sleep apnea's most typical warning signs and symptoms are as follows:
- Loud snoring
- Episodes in which you stop breathing during sleep — which would be reported by another person
- Gasping for air during sleep
- Awakening with a dry mouth
- Morning headache
- Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia)
- Excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia)
- Difficulty paying attention while awake
When to see a doctor
Although loud snoring may be a sign of a potentially dangerous issue, not all people with sleep apnea snore. If you experience any sleep apnea symptoms, consult your doctor. If you have a sleep issue that makes you tired, sleepy, or irritable, talk to your doctor.
Obstructive sleep apnea
When the muscles in the back of your throat relax, this happens. These muscles provide support for the tonsils, the soft palate, the uvula, the triangle tissue that hangs from the soft palate, the side walls of the throat, and the tongue. Your airway narrows or shuts as you inhale when the muscles relax. You aren't getting enough air, which might cause your blood's oxygen level to drop. Your brain awakens you temporarily from sleep when it detects that you are having trouble breathing so that you can reopen your airway. Usually, this revelation is so fleeting that you don't recall it. You could choke, snort, or gasp. This cycle can occur five to thirty times or more every hour during the night, making it difficult for you to enter into a deep, comfortable sleep.
Central sleep apnea
When your brain is unable to send instructions to your breathing muscles, you get this less frequent type of sleep apnea. In other words, you briefly stop breathing without trying. Shortness of breath or trouble falling or staying asleep could cause you to wake up.
Sleep apnea can affect anyone, even children. But certain factors increase your risk.
Obstructive sleep apnea
Factors that increase the risk of this form of sleep apnea include:
- Excess weight. Obesity greatly increases the risk of sleep apnea. Fat deposits around your upper airway can obstruct your breathing.
- Neck circumference. People with thicker necks might have narrower airways.
- A narrowed airway. You might have inherited a narrow throat. Tonsils or adenoids also can enlarge and block the airway, particularly in children.
- Being male. Men are two to three times more likely to have sleep apnea than women. However, women increase their risk if they're overweight, and their risk also appears to rise after menopause.
- Being older. Sleep apnea occurs significantly more often in older adults.
- Family history. Having family members with sleep apnea might increase your risk.
- Use of alcohol, sedatives, or tranquilizers. These substances relax the muscles in your throat, which can worsen obstructive sleep apnea.
- Smoking. Smokers are three times more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea than are people who've never smoked. Smoking can increase the amount of inflammation and fluid retention in the upper airway.
- Nasal congestion. If you have difficulty breathing through your nose — whether from an anatomical problem or allergies — you're more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea.
- Medical conditions. Congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and Parkinson's disease are some of the conditions that may increase the risk of obstructive sleep apnea. Polycystic ovary syndrome, hormonal disorders, prior stroke, and chronic lung diseases such as asthma also can increase the risk.
Central sleep apnea
Risk factors for this form of sleep apnea include:
- Being older. Middle-aged and older people have a higher risk of central sleep apnea.
- Being male. Central sleep apnea is more common in men than it is in women.
- Heart disorders. Having congestive heart failure increases the risk.
- Using narcotic pain medications. Opioid medications, especially long-acting ones such as methadone, increase the risk of central sleep apnea.
- Stroke. Having had a stroke increases your risk of central sleep apnea or treatment-emergent central sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a serious medical condition. Complications can include:
Daytime fatigue. The repeated awakenings associated with sleep apnea make normal, restorative sleep impossible, making severe daytime drowsiness, fatigue, and irritability likely.
You might have difficulty concentrating and find yourself falling asleep at work while watching TV, or even when driving. People with sleep apnea have an increased risk of a motor vehicle and workplace accidents.
You might also feel quick-tempered, moody, or depressed. Children and adolescents with sleep apnea might perform poorly in school or have behavior problems.
High blood pressure or heart problems. Sudden drops in blood oxygen levels that occur during sleep apnea increase blood pressure and strain the cardiovascular system. Having obstructive sleep apnea increases your risk of high blood pressure (hypertension).
Obstructive sleep apnea might also increase your risk of recurrent heart attack, stroke, and abnormal heartbeats, such as atrial fibrillation. If you have heart disease, multiple episodes of low blood oxygen (hypoxia or hypoxemia) can lead to sudden death from an irregular heartbeat.
- Type 2 diabetes. Having sleep apnea increases your risk of developing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
- Metabolic syndrome. This disorder, which includes high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, high blood sugar, and an increased waist circumference, is linked to a higher risk of heart disease.
Complications with medications and surgery. Obstructive sleep apnea is also a concern with certain medications and general anesthesia. People with sleep apnea might be more likely to have complications after major surgery because they're prone to breathing problems, especially when sedated and lying on their backs.
Before you have surgery, tell your doctor about your sleep apnea and how it's being treated.
- Liver problems. People with sleep apnea are more likely to have abnormal results on liver function tests, and their livers are more likely to show signs of scarring (nonalcoholic fatty liver disease).
- Sleep-deprived partners. Loud snoring can keep anyone who sleeps near you from getting good rest. It's not uncommon for a partner to have to go to another room, or even to another floor of the house, to be able to sleep.